Why We’re Not Keen On Compass Minerals International, Inc.’s (NYSE:CMP) 6.5% Return On Capital

Today we’ll look at Compass Minerals International, Inc. (NYSE:CMP) and reflect on its potential as an investment. Specifically, we’re going to calculate its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), in the hopes of getting some insight into the business.

Firstly, we’ll go over how we calculate ROCE. Next, we’ll compare it to others in its industry. Finally, we’ll look at how its current liabilities affect its ROCE.

Understanding Return On Capital Employed (ROCE)

ROCE is a metric for evaluating how much pre-tax income (in percentage terms) a company earns on the capital invested in its business. In general, businesses with a higher ROCE are usually better quality. Ultimately, it is a useful but imperfect metric. Author Edwin Whiting says to be careful when comparing the ROCE of different businesses, since ‘No two businesses are exactly alike.’

How Do You Calculate Return On Capital Employed?

The formula for calculating the return on capital employed is:

Return on Capital Employed = Earnings Before Interest and Tax (EBIT) ÷ (Total Assets – Current Liabilities)

Or for Compass Minerals International:

0.065 = US$135m ÷ (US$2.4b – US$283m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2018.)

So, Compass Minerals International has an ROCE of 6.5%.

Check out our latest analysis for Compass Minerals International

Is Compass Minerals International’s ROCE Good?

ROCE can be useful when making comparisons, such as between similar companies. In this analysis, Compass Minerals International’s ROCE appears meaningfully below the 11% average reported by the Metals and Mining industry. This could be seen as a negative, as it suggests some competitors may be employing their capital more efficiently. Separate from how Compass Minerals International stacks up against its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms is mediocre; relative to the returns on government bonds. It is possible that there are more rewarding investments out there.

As we can see, Compass Minerals International currently has an ROCE of 6.5%, less than the 15% it reported 3 years ago. Therefore we wonder if the company is facing new headwinds.

NYSE:CMP Past Revenue and Net Income, February 28th 2019
NYSE:CMP Past Revenue and Net Income, February 28th 2019

When considering ROCE, bear in mind that it reflects the past and does not necessarily predict the future. ROCE can be deceptive for cyclical businesses, as returns can look incredible in boom times, and terribly low in downturns. This is because ROCE only looks at one year, instead of considering returns across a whole cycle. Given the industry it operates in, Compass Minerals International could be considered cyclical. Since the future is so important for investors, you should check out our free report on analyst forecasts for Compass Minerals International.

Compass Minerals International’s Current Liabilities And Their Impact On Its ROCE

Current liabilities include invoices, such as supplier payments, short-term debt, or a tax bill, that need to be paid within 12 months. Due to the way the ROCE equation works, having large bills due in the near term can make it look as though a company has less capital employed, and thus a higher ROCE than usual. To counteract this, we check if a company has high current liabilities, relative to its total assets.

Compass Minerals International has total liabilities of US$283m and total assets of US$2.4b. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 12% of its total assets. This is a modest level of current liabilities, which would only have a small effect on ROCE.

What We Can Learn From Compass Minerals International’s ROCE

If Compass Minerals International continues to earn an uninspiring ROCE, there may be better places to invest. Of course you might be able to find a better stock than Compass Minerals International. So you may wish to see this free collection of other companies that have grown earnings strongly.

If you like to buy stocks alongside management, then you might just love this free list of companies. (Hint: insiders have been buying them).

We aim to bring you long-term focused research analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material.

If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com. This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. Simply Wall St has no position in the stocks mentioned. Thank you for reading.